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Speech at bizSAFE Convention 2014

Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, Acting Minister for Manpower, Max Atria @ Singapore Expo

Mr Lee Tzu Yang, Chairman, Workplace Safety and Health Council,

Ladies and gentlemen, 

  1. Good morning. I am pleased to join you at the sixth annual bizSAFE Convention.
  2. I attended last year's bizSAFE Convention and I am happy to see that the bizSAFE community has grown from strength to strength with each passing year. Last year, we reported that 14,500 companies have embarked on the bizSAFE journey. Today, that number has increased to more than 17,000. This growing awareness and increased acceptance that issues related to workplace safety and health, or WSH in short, are an integral part of any business bodes well for Singapore as we strive to improve our WSH performance. While the numbers are important in the sense that more are coming onboard, we can always do more. Importantly, each of you who participate should not just be a number that adds to the statistics, but should really embrace WSH. And a lot of it is about the cultural change that we need to bring to bear at our workplace and in our own consciousness on a day-to-day basis.

    Being safe and healthy is key to business success
  3. The theme for this year's bizSAFE Convention is "Being Safe and Healthy". Given the spate of workplace accidents over the last few weeks, which has resulted in 12 fatalities, it is a timely reminder to all of us, in all our capacities – whether as a business owner, manager, supervisor or the individual worker, ourselves – all of us have a role to play. The main thing is to make sure that everyone goes home safe and healthy every day to our families. When companies focus on ensuring safety and health in the workplace, employees will feel valued and cared for. This has an impact on staff engagement. This has an impact on a transformed workplace culture that can lead to higher productivity and quality, reduced turnover, reduced costs and greater employee satisfaction. Much as we also talk about the impact and economic cost of WSH, that is but one part of the equation. The more important thing that we are talking about in this realm of WSH, is about lives. The lives of our co-workers, employees, people that we know and work with each day. It’s not something we can put a dollar value to. It is important for us, even as we highlight some of the economic dimensions – some people relate to that better – it is about people and their families. This is something that I will repeat again and again. You do really need to pay attention to the safety of people. You do not want to look at the family in their eye to tell them that their fathers or mothers will not be coming back. Or in some cases, seriously hurt or permanently disabled. That is a burden that families have to carry for a long time.
  4. A good WSH performance must therefore be an important business outcome. As part of your business process, you need to work in WSH, regardless of the industry and size of your company. I would add, regardless of the strains, concerns and considerations that you may be under as you carry out your various projects, having tight timelines is not a reason for cutting corners. Facing constraints, whether on the manpower front or various aspects, is not a reason to cut corners. Because ultimately, someone is going to be impacted when those corners are cut. We need to bear that in mind. Being able to work in a safe and healthy workplace is something that we expect to be provided for all people. Today, we will recognise the commitment and conscientious efforts of ten companies in their WSH journey. They exemplify the management systems and processes that all companies should consider. Let me highlight the practices of two winners.
  5. Teambuild Engineering & Construction is a construction company with about 140 employees. Not only does the company conduct regular in-house training to educate their employees on good WSH practices, it organises teambuilding activities involving employees and their contractors are undertaken to improve collaboration. As a practice, subcontractors are required to submit their Risk Assessment, Safe Work Procedures and other safety and health documentation two weeks prior to work commencement. The submissions are evaluated and amended to help eradicate foreseeable safety hazards and safety standards are set early in the project. After work commences, regular onsite inspections are conducted to maintain a high standard of safety on sites. Subcontractors are also being assessed on a monthly basis through their Environmental, Health and Safety performance management system. Employees and sub-contractors who have done well in managing WSH at the worksites are then recognised and rewarded.
  6. Another winner is St Francis Methodist School. The school has set up a Health, Safety, Security and Environment Council and appointed middle management to oversee risk management (RM) matters. The Council has incorporated a string of safety measures during the renovation of their school last year. These include installing fans to improve ventilation as well as ionisers in toilets to enhance air quality. Fruits are also distributed to staff and students on a biannual basis as part of the school’s “Fruit Day” initiative to promote their health and wellbeing. By winning the bizSAFE Enterprise Progressive Award, the school has raised the level of WSH awareness among the staff and students, and spurred them to continue with their efforts to adopt WSH as part of the school’s culture.
  7. These are just two of many more bizSAFE companies who are committed to integrating good safety and health practices into their workplaces and allocating resources to better manage WSH. They understand that this is not just a tick in the box, not just steps that they carry out, but they embrace it in the broader sense of the word and it is immersive in many ways. And as we begin to talk about WSH in the workplace, as we emphasise to our staff about how we can improve, how we can better incorporate WSH, and how we can diligently execute the various measures after introducing them – all these are important signals about your commitment to the welfare of your people. And your people will notice it and appreciate it. As I mentioned, this has a bearing on how they relate to you and how they relate to your company.

    Being bizSAFE makes business sense
  8. The WSH Institute conducted a study1 last year covering over 1,600 companies, including bizSAFE and non-bizSAFE enterprises as well as their clients. It showed that 81% of companies who engaged bizSAFE enterprises prefer to engage them again for future projects because they assessed that bizSAFE enterprises were better at managing WSH and they could see the benefits in engaging bizSAFE enterprises. Nine out of 10 bizSAFE enterprises also agreed that bizSAFE had helped them to improve the safety and health of their workplaces, and would recommend others to join. In essence, having better WSH practices and programmes, and being more involved and committed towards WSH have led to improved business opportunities for bizSAFE companies.
  9. However, the study also revealed that 28% of employers from non-bizSAFE enterprises have not implemented risk assessment in their workplace. This is worrying. Some of you may find that risk management a chore. But what it does, is it forces us to consciously think about the issues at hand, about the risks that sometimes we take for granted and we gloss over. Once you work risk assessment into your habit, your consciousness, it will become a lot more manageable. Again, it may seem inconvenient but it does make a difference because it reminds people of the risks that exist, even in simple day-to-day jobs. When you are conscious of the risks, you also increase the probability that less accidents will happen. Industry feedback also indicated that even amongst companies which have implemented risk assessment; there are risk factors that were not considered. The translation from assessment to implementation was also an area of concern.

    Risk Management 2.0
  10. To address these gaps, my Ministry will work with the WSH Council to take a fresh look at the current RM framework to enhance its coverage and effectiveness. Risk Management 2.0, or RM2.0, seeks to accomplish three things. One, to provide a holistic framework that includes consideration of personal risk factors and not just workplace safety conditions. Two, to adopt a pragmatic approach in WSH that focuses on the practices rather than the documentation of its systems and processes. Three, to shift the emphasis from downstream risk mitigation controls that rely on the usage of personal protective equipment, or PPE in short, to upstream risk prevention controls that can be achieved through elimination, substitution and engineering controls of the risk factors.
  11. Let me give you an example of how risk management, when implemented properly, can improve a company’s productivity. For example, companies dealing with hazardous chemicals for cleaning purposes would typically rely on the workers’ usage of PPE as a risk mitigation measure. However, if the hazardous and flammable chemical can be substituted or replaced with a non-flammable and less toxic material, it would eliminate the risk of fire and the need for complex procedures, training and over-reliance on supervision and PPE. What it means is you go upstream and see where it is possible to make fundamental changes from a structural perspective. It is also easier for the worker as he would not need to put on respirators, goggles, gloves and apron in order to carry out his job safely in a timely and efficient manner. Hence, it is imperative that companies emphasise risk management to prevent accidents and ill health through risk assessment and risk control at the workplace, and upstream. RM2.0 aims to support such efforts. We will share details of RM2.0 when the review is completed sometime later this year.

    Existing initiatives to help industry raise WSH standards
  12. Having said that, you don’t need to wait till the roll out of RM2.0 to undertake RM and improve your WSH capabilities. Over the years, the WSH Council and Ministry of Manpower have put in place various initiatives to support these efforts. Let me just give two examples.
  13. First, checklists, guides and a Code of Practice on WSH Risk Management, produced in collaboration with industry partners, are already available online through the WSH Council website. So do take a look. A lot of effort has been over the years to provide these resources, and many of you have collaborated and given suggestions. A lot of these products are online, do check them out and use them. To add further impetus to action and engender greater ownership on WSH issues, a WSH alert service to notify occupiers of incidents and injuries reported by their subcontractors will also be rolled out. We hope the alert will prompt the occupier to take necessary action and to work closely with the subcontractor on ways to prevent the recurrence of such incidents. The alert service is free and I encourage all companies to subscribe to it when the service is launched. We will announce details of how you can sign up through the WSH Bulletin on the Council’s website.
  14. Second, we have supported the WSH Council in developing the CultureSAFE programme. The programme focuses on cultivating the right mindset and attitude in every employee; from the top management down to the last worker. Through employee surveys and onsite assessments, the strengths and gaps in a company’s WSH culture will be identified. This information will then help companies to implement suitable programmes to meet their needs. Every company is different and some of these programmes can be customised and adjusted. A WSH Culture Fund was launched in November 2012 to assist small- and medium-enterprises, or SMES in short, to defray the cost of establishing a positive WSH culture for their workplace through the CultureSAFE programme. Since October last year, we have increased the proportion of government funding for the WSH Culture Fund from 70% to 90%. I strongly encourage companies to tap on this grant to come on board the CultureSAFE programme and find out how to build a strong WSH culture within your organisation to sustain the systems in place.

  15. Let me conclude by once again emphasising that we really do need to take the WSH aspects of our business seriously. As a responsible employer, it is only right for you to make sure your employees are looked after and taken care of. It is not only your business that will be impacted. The human impact of workplace accidents cannot be underestimated. There are significant repercussions on the lives of the families affected, some of which may be irreversible. And that is a burden the families have to carry for the rest of their lives.
  16. But, WSH is not just an employer’s responsibility. Everyone from Professional Engineers to supervisors to workers has a role to play. On our part in the Government, it is to support the process and effort, and while we will do as much as we can, there is only so much we can do. A lot depends on all of us chipping in to make that difference. We can all play our part, at the very least to remind one another to always put safety first. This requires perseverance. And perseverance can only come when there is inner motivation, and that comes from the capacity to care for your people. Because if you are just doing it from a functional perspective, just looking at check lists, and just making sure that when MOM comes around to inspect, you don’t get caught. But that’s really not the point. The whole point is to internalise WSH and embrace it. And your workers will feel that you actually do care for their welfare. That will have a positive impact on your company. Only in that way can we cultivate a strong and pervasive WSH culture, so that we can continue to strive towards our vision of zero workplace accidents. I wish all of you a safe and healthy year ahead. Thank you and congratulations to all the winners.

1 For more details on the Study, refer to Annex A.